Cormac Richards – September 2022

It is just over 4 years since I became a regular reviewer at the Theatre Royal Plymouth, though I had been there before, as a viewer only. The three auditoria which make up the theatre are; the Lyric with 1300 seats, the Drum with 200 and the Lab with 50. It is a major touring venue for large scale shows of all kinds and a production and educational centre; it provides impressive engagement with the local communities and in it’s other city site, TR2, a set-building, costume-making and rehearsal facility of extremely high regard.

I have enjoyed many productions over the years on all three stages; the good, the bad and the ugly – but mostly the excellent and memorable for all the right reasons. Opened in 1982 by Princess Margaret, there is no doubt that a celebration of 40 years as a major theatre is an important milestone; 40 Extraordinary Years is the title of their year and it is a fitting one.

A recent change in leadership at the Theatre brought in James Mackenzie-Blackman as Chief Executive; taking up his role in January 2022, James once worked in Theatre’s box office and was a member of the wonderful Young Company. Taking over from Adrian Vinken, who held the job for an amazing 31 years, will be a considerable challenge. Although I never met Adrian, I have met James on a number of occasions. He is a very visible CEO and is keen to engage with the public and with others who support the theatre under his management. Engaging, enthusiastic and dedicated are just three words which sum up my view of his approach to his job – I am sure they will hold him in good stead as he gradually makes his own mark on the Theatre Royal.

Since my first time as a reviewer I have always been made incredibly welcome. This has been in marked contrast to some other theatres I could mention. My first contact at the Theatre was with Rebecca Pettitt and then Maia Bishenden; both so friendly and impeccable in their communication and customer service skills; I always received kindness. At their time in charge I was also given access to other parts of the theatre to pen articles and was asked to speak about how I worked as a reviewer to some of those starting out to do the same. As those members of staff  moved on, their shoes have been filled to perfection by Savanna Myszka and Chris Baker who have provided a level of welcome and support beyond what is expected and offered the friendliest of faces to deal with. All have been a true credit to the Theatre and I look forward to continuing to deal with Savanna, Chris and now Megan Stone in the weeks and months to come.

My journey to Plymouth is a 130-mile round trip and so it is not a small consideration in time – and with the price of motor fuel, cost. However, I have learned over the years that the results of any visit to TRP are always ones which will have positives attached to it. As a reviewer there are many considerations to take into account; personal likes and dislikes do have a part, but the need for comparison is vital in order to assess standards and set these against expectations. At Theatre Royal Plymouth the programme offered is of such variety that the chance to make such comparisons is on a plate in front of you. 

Amongst the many big budget touring productions I have loved; Matthew Bourne’s NUTCRACKER & SWAN LAKE; contemporary dance from NDT2 and RAMBERT; GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS & THE ENTERTAINER; WHITE CHRISTMAS, THE LION THE WITCH & THE WARDROBE. My favourites are many, but two small productions in The Drum stand out; SNOW WHITE AND THE HAPPY EVER AFTER BEAUTY SALON and my very favourite production, THE KNEEBONE CADILLAC by Carl Grose – as entertaining a play as I have ever seen – off the wall and off the scale and with the best set design I can ever remember. Variety is the spice of TRP life.

As already mentioned, I have been privileged to go behind the scenes at TR2 – on an extensive tour my mouth was wide open in surprise at what I saw and was told. With facilities such as you will find here, there is no doubt that the Theatre has something to be proud of. A resource which carries importance across the theatrical world in the UK and is a feather in the cap which TRP should maybe shout about more!

Community engagement and the encouragement of new writers and young performers all play such an important role in a theatre which to many comprises just those big scale shows which tour the country. Oh, but there is more, so much more to it. Look over your shoulder and you will be pressed to find a theatre of such dynamism, variety and reach.

Emerging from the pandemic, theatres thrived or fell; Theatre Royal Plymouth was visible through its determination to keep going and by keeping to strict rules was able to offer theatre to its supporters as soon as it was safe to do so. There were real efforts made in the face of such adversity. I really hope this attitude of mind paid off.

The 40th birthday of any theatre is worth celebrating and I am sure the celebrations will extend the full twelve months. The very special presentation in mid-September 2022 – THE USHER by Babs Horton and Laura Horton, offered the chance for the audience to venture onto the stage of The Lyric – vast, cavernous and magical – and be entertained in a unique fashion – memorable it certainly will be.

So to the Theatre Royal Plymouth, a very happy 40th birthday. Not just for the productions who you invite, but for the theatre you make, for the friendly faces you provide and the support you offer, for the communities you serve and represent and for the innovations you instigate and for the many other reasons why so many people love coming to your auditoria – and let’s face it, the seats are pretty comfy.

Celebrate with your head held as high as Messenger outside,  and here’s to the next 40 years!

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